Chris Christie’s Howard Beale moment

January 2, 2013

Chris Christie is mad as hell, and he's not going to take it any more -- not even from his own party.

Watching the New Jersey governor's invective against the House Republican leadership this afternoon, it was hard not to recall the iconic character from 1976's "Network," a satirical film about a news anchor who loses it on the air.

In the spirit of that character, Howard Beale, Christie offered some pretty unvarnished thoughts on Congress's decision to punt on a Hurricane Sandy relief bill Tuesday and some pretty direct shots at House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

The performance was more harsh in its content than in its delivery, so the words tell the story here. A sampling:

* "66 days and counting. Shame on you. Shame on Congress."

* "Unlike people in Congress, [governors] have actual responsibilities."

* “[Boehner] hasn’t lost all credibility, but right now I think what happened last night was absolutely uncalled for. And I’ve been given no credible reason why.”

* He referred to “the Speaker’s irresponsible action in not moving on anything."

* "Our people were played last night as a pawn, and that’s why people hate Washington. Last night, my party was responsible for this.”

* “Those guys should spend a little more time reading the information we sent and a little less time reading the political talking points" written by their staffs.

* "At the moment, I wouldn't be looking to do much for House leadership."

* “I believe that they are so consumed with their own politics that they’ve forgotten that they have a job to do.”

But to dismiss Christie's press confrence as some kind of spontaneous Beale-esque tirade misses the point, to some degree. Politics are certainly at play here.

(And yes, we realize that Christie may not be thinking about his political future at a time like this, but everything in politics has political implications, and it's worth looking at what they are.)

While it's plainly obvious that the governor is more than frustrated with the House's failure to vote on a Sandy relief bill, he's also picking on a decidedly weak political foe. House Republicans have virtually no political capital these days, so singling them out has the dual benefit of both forcing them to act and making Christie look like a hero triumphing over evil (or Congress's rough equivalent).

The whole situation also plays into Christie's emerging image as someone who speaks hard truths, regardless of the consequences. You simply don't see most politicians saying such things about their own parties and colleagues -- basically ever.

Yes, Christie may risk alienating himself from the Republican establishment by ragging on the GOP House so badly. And some in the party already regard him with some suspicion after his praise of and appearance with President Obama in the aftermath of Sandy just a week before the 2012 election.

But it would be hard to find many Republicans right now who would defend their party for punting on a hurricane relief package. And by making himself the head of that fight, Christie only improves his political standing in advance of 2016.

What's more, leaders in Congress played a very small role in the 2012 GOP nominating contest, so it's not as though Christie needs Boehner on board for a potential presidential campaign.

This is a winning political battle for Chris Christie. And he'll probably get his aid package, too.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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